Graham Greene: England Made Me (US: The Shipwrecked)
Graham Greene’s heroes often have a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and this novel certainly follows that theme. In his later novels, the setting will be more exotic (Mexico, Haiti, Cuba) but here it is primarily in Stockholm, not a place one associates with dirty deeds, but the Stockholm fog serves as useful plot device, just as the London fog has for other writers.
The story is about two twins, Kate and Anthony (Tony) Farrant. Though they have been long separated – at the beginning, Kate wonders whether she will still recognise him – their relationship borders on the incestuous. Tony is a loveable rogue. He lies, he cheats, he womanises, he steals. He has resigned (i.e. been fired) from jobs all over the world and, at the beginning of the story, has once again been forced to resign for reasons of honour (i.e. he was caught stealing). Somehow, he has always managed to land on his feet and find another job. This time, his sister comes to his rescue. She works for Erik Krogh, a very successful Swedish financier, and is also Krogh’s lover and even, for a very brief time, his fiancée. She tells Tony that Krogh will give him a job and, indeed, once they get to Stockholm, Krogh hires him as his bodyguard.
Tony is a rogue and a liar, happy to pretend to a military rank he does not have, claim to have attended Harrow when he clearly did not, or to claim that scars he has were obtained in dangerous situations when they were the result of minor accidents. However, despite all his, he is a man of honour, in the old-fashioned, English way. While lying and petty theft may be OK, he still expects that people will generally behave decently and that major theft and extortion are out of the question. Erik Krogh is a financier who is out to make money. At the time of the novel, he is involved in a complex deal to enter the US market, which involves selling one company (without telling anyone, particularly the employees) and making short-term borrowings to cover his costs. To achieve his aims he is happy to behave correctly but, when that won’t work, he is happy to lie and cheat on a scale Tony Farrant has not imagined and could not condone. For example, when there is a threat of a strike, he negotiates a deal with the leader of the strikers and then has him fired. He conceals most of his actions from his board of directors, whom he sees as mere puppets. But there is another side to him. Though he does not particularly like art, he goes through the motions of pretending to do so, attending the opera (and falling asleep during it), pretending to like a statue by Sweden’s best-known sculptor, till Tony points out that it is rubbish, and giving a journalist some money to finance a Swedish production of Shakespeare’s Pericles.
But when it comes to dirty finance and dirty politics Krogh is in his element. He has worked his way up to the top. He is courted by journalists, who make a living out of reporting on his every deed and utterance. One of them, Minty, a English journalist, is a wonderful creation, always seeking a crumb of information, insecure but somehow surviving. He uses Tony as a source but soon finds out that Tony may not be 100% reliable. Tony, meanwhile, as always, drifts along, taking up with a young woman on holiday from Coventry, persuading Krogh to abandon the opera for a night club and befriending Minty. But he also discovers some of Krogh’s papers and his illegal dealings and witnesses one of Krogh’s men beating the son of the fired striker and his conscience is pricked. Of course, Tony is a man out of his time and place and his old-fashioned brand of morality does not fit in, for which he pays the price. Greene, as always, tells a good story, gives us fine characters and leaves us thinking, as usual, that abroad is a dangerous place for an Englishman
First published 1935 by Heinemann